Her maiden voyage is approaching. Mein Schiff 5 will enter service in summer 2016. At the Finnish shipyard in Turku, powerful cranes lift the huge bow onto the high-tech cruise vessel and the welders come out in force. Meanwhile, back at the headquarters of TUI Cruises in Hamburg, project leader Peter Heidacker is monitoring all the details. He has a grandstand view of the whole process – from the assembly of the two massive propellers to the countless screws on board which all need proper tightening.
Hamburg and Turku are 1,300 kilometres apart, but on this autumn day the weather is equally overcast in both cities. Cloudy and wet amid the Hanseatic spires, cloudy and wet in south-west Finland. Peter Heidacker is accustomed to it. “For someone so deeply involved with cruise holidays, it’s amazing how often I find myself standing in the rain.” But the construction engineer does not allow the weather to dampen his spirits. Whether it’s drizzling on the harbour front or a cold sea wind is sweeping across the Meyer Turku Oy shipyard, as soon as the 38-year-old starts talking about his work it’s clear that this man has found his dream job. As lead project manager, Peter Heidacker is in charge of building the latest addition to the TUI Cruises fleet. On 15 July 2016, Mein Schiff 5 will be ceremonially launched in Lübeck-Travemünde. From that moment on, the vessel will spend almost 365 days a year at sea. Already her first voyages are almost fully booked. “We have to finish on time, no two ways about it,” says Peter Heidacker in a matter-of-fact tone. He glances at the schedule for the new build – 271 days to go until her maiden voyage. The progress marker shows 50 per cent completion. The project manager nods: “It’ll do.”
»A cruise ship is a complex technical system where every piece has to play its part.«
He does not find his mission stressful, even if he is still quite young and the project is so huge. “We can handle it, and after all it’s my job.” Besides, things went well with sister ships Mein Schiff 3 and 4, and Heidacker was responsible for those new builds too. The manager goes to his desktop to call up the live-cam images from Turku. A crane is in the process of slotting the great blue bow of Mein Schiff 5 into the right position, and the frame of the cruise ship is now easily recognisable. Even the funnel with the distinctive TUI smile is ready for insertion. “This is when the exciting part begins. The ship will make enormous advances by the day,” says Peter Heidacker. In a few weeks he will be flying to Turku for a lengthy stay: once the new build slips out of dry dock, the Finnish university town will become his second home until Mein Schiff 5 is ready to go.
Just how complex it is to construct a cruise vessel of this magnitude is illustrated by a complicated drawing that hangs in Peter Heidacker’s office. There are diamonds and circles and different-coloured lines. For a moment Heidacker relishes his visitor’s bewildered gaze, then he says: “That is the master plan. Although actually that is only the surface.” A sketch on the wall could not possibly depict all the fine detail. That task is undertaken by high-capacity project management software. A brief look into the database reveals the innumerable items that make up the construction project Mein Schiff 5. Some of them are huge in themselves: the two propellers are as tall as four men. Others may look small, but are by no means insignificant. “A cruise ship is a complex technical system where every piece has to play its part,” observes Heidacker. A nut that has not been correctly set could generate a rattle. But that is out of the question. The crew would have to start tracking down the cause – and that eats into time and labour. “There are reasons why only four shipyards in the world can build cruise ships this size,” he adds. “You need to pull together a lot of know-how, or you are not up to the challenge.”
FACTS & FIGURES
The shipyard procedure
The shipyard is constructing Mein Schiff 5 in modules. This is not standard practice for cruise ships, but the method has proven particularly efficient for the Mein Schiff fleet. By the way: as long as the vessel is being built, the shipyard decides who can come and go on board. The crew will not take over until the date of commissioning.
SIX STAGES TO COMPLETE THE SHIP
All ship’s data are defined; a 3D model of the ship is made, the master plan is drawn up.
Choice of design, colours and materials; computer-aided visualisation of the interior.
Separate pieces of steel are forged into 77 big blocks, then welded together in dry dock.
Installation and enclosure of pipes, cables and insulation; furbishing of restaurants, bars and swimming pools.
Shakedown cruise and first-time operation of all technical systems on board.
The crew assume operations, stock up and take command of the ship.
From design to ship
Nearly three years before commissioning, planning begins for a new build to join the Mein Schiff cruise fleet.
Officially construction begins when the first steel is cut. At the Meyer Turku Oy shipyard, that was in November 2014.
Work to assemble the ship now begins, similar to laying the foundation stone for a building.
In January 2016 Mein Schiff 5 takes to the water for the first time.
3 questions for:
Mr Claussen, why do you find it particularly exciting to design cruise ships?
CLAUSSEN: Compared with onshore projects, the work is more demanding. An example: if we want a floor light in a hotel, we bury it in the screed. On a ship it’s more complicated, because you have to weld a hole into the steel deck, cap it off underneath and still comply with fire protection rules. So you can’t always resolve these things so quickly. Besides, the design stage is so short. Things need to move fast, which is why four design companies are working in different areas at the same time, while we at cm-DESIGN have the task of maintaining an overview.
What is the key to helping passengers feel good on the Mein Schiff fleet?
CLAUSSEN: Passengers want to be immersed in a world that is completely unlike home. So our job is to create that special atmosphere. At the same time, one feature that marks out the TUI Cruises feel-good fleet is its homing principle. Especially in the cabins, where little tricks and stratagems like the choice of pictures and textiles allow passengers to feel at home.
What is distinctive about the design of public areas on board Mein Schiff 5?
CLAUSSEN: In the public areas the guests have more space than on most other cruise ships. In terms of design, that frees up TUI Cruises from competing in a race for the most attractive features. The look is much more about saying to passengers: You really can relax on this voyage.
Now the screen shows a brawny crane hoisting heavyweight cabin blocks onto the vessel. “Looks like giant Lego,” comments Heidacker, who evidently enjoys watching this technical spectacle. The cabins have been supplied by a subsidiary of the shipyard and they are assembled at a facility 100 kilometres away. The advantage to this is having fewer workers on the ship, which makes the logistics easier. On the other hand, there is another nerve-racking element to contend with, because the crane must be accurate down to the last centimetre when it sets down each enormous block in the predefined place, otherwise the units cannot be welded together cleanly. “The crane operator has a calm hand,” Heidacker says. He knows him, just as he knows most key workers at the Finnish shipyard. The headcount there is currently around 400. In the peak period, there will be five times that number working on the job.
The construction engineer likes spending time at the yard, preferably on the ship herself, where sparks fly from the welding tools and the thousands of items in his master plan gradually acquire the form of a cruise ship. But today his organisational know-how is required in Hamburg. As lead project manager he supervises not only the technical and logistical aspects of the construction, but also the costs. The middle three-digit million figure in the budget would do a small town proud. After all, from summer 2016 there will be more than 2,500 passengers and about 1,000 crew travelling the high seas on this ship. The budget follows the same principle as the technical infrastructure: no item is too small to matter. A pretty addition to the interior decoration can soon mount up with 1,267 cabins. “We want to offer our passengers great quality,” says Heidacker.
To do that, he needs to find out what the guests on board really think is important – and also what innovations they might like to see. This knowledge is supplied by Nicola Hannappel. The innovation manager evaluates feedback, uses it as a springboard for her own thinking process, and comes up with new ideas. She often sits down with Peter Heidacker to review the technical and financial feasibility. “The things people want are very wide-ranging,” she says. Top of the list: wi-fi on board. “For our guests that would be real added value. But technically it’s a big ask, because the ship is out at sea. However, we are working on it and we will soon be in a position to offer some attractive packages.” The vivacious innovation manager vividly describes some of her other ideas, like a café for the reception area or an art exhibition on board. Listening to Nicola Hannappel, you immediately appreciate her genuine passion. “This fascination for shipbuilding and tourism is important,” says her colleague Peter Heidacker. Whether the project manager is poring over plans with his team in Hamburg or inspecting welds between big steel plates in Turku, there is a tangible sense that everyone looks forward to launching a new ship. “That is the great thing about shipbuilding,” he says. “Be it in Hamburg or Turku, everyone feels they are on board.”